Here in South Korea, where I’ve stayed for about a month, I’ve noticed people eating quite a lot of instant ramen noodles. And not just out of those pre-packaged cups you pour hot water into, which we all remember from our student days. They put the stuff in everything, especially the dishes you least expect. They’ve made something of a national culinary art form of throwing instant ramen into various traditional stews and soups, thus significantly raising the status of that ultimate low-status food. But when we talk about ramen without the “instant” in front of it, it can suddenly take us straight into the realm of the gourmet: the Ivans and the Momofukus of the worlds, for instance. In the short video above, you can see what kind of highly non-instant process Sun Noodle, the supplier to those fine U.S.-based ramen houses and others, goes through to make a first-class product.
But why pay for the best when the cost of a single meal at Momofuku could buy all the instant ramen you’d ever need? Perhaps the project above from artist and TEDxManhattan video presenter Stefani Bardin will go some way to answering the question. In it, she uses a gastrointestinal camera pill to record what it looks inside our bodies when we eat “whole foods” — hibiscus Gatorade, pomegranate and cherry juice Gummi Bears, homemade chicken stock with handmade noodles — versus when we eat “processed foods” — blue Gatorade, regular Gummi Bears, and, yes, good old instant ramen. For a far more pleasant follow-up to that harrowing visual experience, revisit how to make instant ramen courtesy of Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki, which we featured last year. And if it gets you feeling ambitious, why not find some more challenging ramen recipes on Cookpad, the Japanese cooking site newly launched in English? Or do as the Koreans sometimes do and combine it with fish cake, eggs, and a slice of American cheese — if you can stomach it.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.